The Committee for Greater L.A., along with researchers at UCLA and USC, released a report arguing that Los Angeles should not go back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic but should instead build an economy that works for everyone.
The “No Going Back” report was conducted with businesses, nonprofits, government officials and academic researchers, and the group found that returning to normal would mean a failure to address poverty and being unprepared for future pandemics.
“One thing that's important to recognize is that, while the pandemic has definitely created a significant amount of inequity and economic distress in communities, we were set up for the response to play out that way,” said Edward Muna, senior data analyst at the USC Dornsife Equity Research Institute.
“We experienced vast amounts of income inequality prior to the pandemic and an over representation of Black, Latino and Asian Pacific American workers in essential, higher risk jobs. We're seeing things play out the way they are now because the system was built that way.”
The report suggested that the first thing on L.A.'s agenda should be to prevent a wave of evictions when the moratorium is set to end in March and 36,000 to 120,000 families and households could become homeless.
The report released options, including having the federal government arrange a buy-out of owed rent and allow people to set up sustainable payment plans. The average back rent owed by renters in California is $7,000, according to the report.
Long term, to prevent a crisis like this in the future, the report recommended Los Angeles County continue its work on affordable housing. The county is 500,000 affordable housing units short of meeting its needs, the report said.
The researchers said an option is acquiring hotels and motels and turning them into housing units, repurposing public facilities and public lands for housing and stabilizing the rental market.
The report also emphasized the need to build an economy that works for all Angelenos, and it noted that COVID-19 had the most dramatic impact on people of color.
The Black and Hispanic death rate for those between 45 and 54 years old was six times higher than for white people of the same age, and nearly a third of nurses who died of the virus in the U.S. were Filipino, even though they're only 4% of the population, according to the report.
Economic impacts have also hit people of color harder, and 40% of Black-owned businesses have closed compared to 22% of general U.S. businesses.
“We underscore in the report that you can't get around these issues without having a specific focus lens on race. To roll out an unemployment relief program that doesn't pay attention to the fact that over 43% of California's Black labor force has filed for unemployment since March is one that is innately lacking,” Muna said.
The report recommends that Los Angeles uplift communities of color by streamlining procurement processes to make it easier for small businesses to apply for contracts. It also urged private businesses to diversify their supply chains and support minority-owned vendors.
Kaiser Permanente was cited as an example, as they have purchased up to $2 billion a year from businesses owned by veterans, women, people of color, disabled individuals and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The researchers noted that local governments can prioritize equity initiatives like the Social Entrepreneurs for Economic Development initiative, which provides opportunities and training to entrepreneurs whether they are legal immigrants or not.
They also suggested that governments help Black people buy homes, as the Black community has the lowest homeownership rate of any U.S. ethnic group. This could be done through mortgage forbearance and affordable home loans, which would help people build generational wealth and lower homelessness rates.
Researchers also urged governments to democratize the Internet by closing the technology gap between ethnic and income groups.
In Los Angeles County, 30% of children lack computer and high-speed Internet access, and in Black and Latino households, 40% of children do not have access. They suggest that basic computing devices should be given to all students enrolled in online classes and L.A. county should provide internet services and broadband to residents.
The report also recommended that L.A. County “support all Angelenos” by assisting undocumented immigrants in attaining legal status. It noted that undocumented immigrants are 12% of L.A.'s workforce, and those workers are disproportionately employed in essential positions with high risk of COVID-19. Many are also employed in the food industry and have lost their jobs as restaurants closed.